The international force that monitors the Israeli-Egyptian peace agreement said Thursday that seven peacekeepers, including five Americans, were killed when one of its helicopters crashed during a routine mission in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula. An eighth peacekeeper — an American — was badly injured.
The Multinational Force and Observers said a French peacekeeper and Czech member of the force were also killed. It did not release the names of the dead, pending notification of their families.
“A full investigation of the cause of the crash, which appears to be mechanical in nature, has been launched,” the force said, thanking Egypt and Israel for their cooperation. The MFO previously said eight people, including six Americans, had died, but it later revised its numbers down.
The MFO said the helicopter crashed during a routine mission near Sharm el-Sheikh, a popular Egyptian resort city on the Red Sea. It did not give a precise location of the crash or say whether the helicopter fell on land or crashed into the sea.
U.S. President-elect Joe Biden tweeted his “deep condolences” to the families of the victims.
An Egyptian official speaking on condition of anonymity per regulations, said the helicopter crashed over Red Sea waters outside Egyptian territorial boundaries. Earlier, an Egyptian official said the aircraft that crashed was a UH-60 Black Hawk.
Islamic militant groups and a regional affiliate of the Islamic State group are known to be active in Sinai. But the MFO said there were no signs of an attack. “At this point, there is no information to indicate the crash was anything except an accident,” it said.
An Israeli official said the injured peacekeeper was airlifted by the peacekeeping force to the Israeli border city of Eilat. From there, he was flown to an Israeli hospital. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter.
Israel’s Foreign Ministry released a statement expressing its “deepest sorrow,” and saying the MFO is “highly regarded for its work.”
The Czech Republic’s military confirmed one of the fatalities of the Black Hawk’s crash was a Czech. It said the cause of the crash was a technical malfunction and added that the survivor is in critical condition. The chief of Czech army’s general staff, General Ales Opata, expressed his condolences and identified the victim in a Facebook post as Sergeant Major Michaela Ticha.
The MFO monitors the four-decade-old peace agreement between Israel and Egypt. BBC News reports the organization currently consists of 1,154 military personnel from 13 countries. The largest contingents are from the US, Colombia, Fiji and France. There are 452 U.S. personnel, some of whom occupy key leadership positions.
Its responsibilities include monitoring troop levels along the border and ensuring the freedom of navigation through the Strait of Tiran.